Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Seeing the light: Pelican Products started out making diving equipment; the LAPD has adopted its high-tech flashlight.(Innovation)(Interview).

With a background in water-tight dive equipment, Pelican Products Inc. offers a wide variety of durable cases and more than 50 flashlights that have been embraced worldwide by industry, the military, and police and fire departments.

Sitting in his corner office on a recent sunny afternoon, the Pelican chief executive pointed to a fire engine parked across the street as a prime example of his Torrance company's reach.

"On that truck there, you'll have Pelican cases carrying gas detectors, Pelican cases carrying hydraulic products for them, big flashlights, small flashlights on their uniforms," Faulkner said. "So that truck there would be a very dominant Pelican-equipped professional outfit. And I think if a cop car pulled up, we could show you the same thing."

Indeed, the company, which currently holds hundreds of contracts to supply equipment to police and fire departments across the country, recently secured its highest-profile contract when the Los Angeles Police Department chose it to develop a new line of flashlights--one that is considered among the most innovative ever made for police use.

Pelican, which was awarded the LAPD contract late last year, plans to supply a lithium-battery powered flashlight that utilizes light emitting diodes to 9,413 officers by June and to every recruit for the next four years.

The smallish, black flashlight reveals a powerfully bright beam, yet is too small and light to be used as a dangerous weapon--an important point for a police department still suffering image problems from the well-publicized beating of a suspect by flashlight-toting cops.

Pelican plans to sell them to the LAPD for about $100 each, half what they will retail for when Pelican begins selling them commercially in June. It will be another source of revenue for a company that annually tops $200 million in sales, and has been on a growth spurt.

With about 700 employees today, the company has added 200 people to its workforce in the past two years. Along with the increasing number of employees, the company has also expanded its operations, taking advantage of new markets across the globe.

About 30 percent of the company's revenue comes from international sales, with Asia a particularly lucrative market. Last month, Pelican opened a sales office in China--its tenth international office.

But the company's products are American through and through. After more than 30 years, Pelican still refuses to outsource its labor and all of the company's products, even those sold in China are designed and manufactured in Torrance.

"We think that's quite unique in today's world where usually it's the opposite," Faulkner said.

Pelican was founded in 1976 in Torrance by industrial designer Dave Parker, who became fascinated with scuba diving after reading a magazine article about diving at age 11.

Parker began diving around the world and after realizing that there were devices he needed but could not buy, he decided to build his own equipment.

The first device was a product the company still makes: the Pelican Float, a reusable buoy that can be quickly deployed to mark a dive spot or where something was lost overboard.

Despite a focus on dive equipment, it soon became clear that the company's tough, durable cases had applications on dry land as well. The military, businesses and police and fire departments took an interest in the company's products.

Pelican now makes more than 40 air- and dust-tight cases, which can hold everything from an iPod, to a rifle or a laptop. Among the featured cases on the company's Web site: the 1780w HL Weapons Case, which is designed to carry an M4 or M16 rifle. It features a humidity gauge and pressure equalization valve; it goes for a minimum of $329.99 on one retail Web site, depending on the configuration.

The company also makes more than 50 flashlights, which can be dropped, stepped on and, in some cases, driven over by a car without breaking. Pelican makes lights that are sealed so that firefighters can use them in flammable environments without causing explosions.

Faulkner says the key to Pelican's growth--it now has more than 20 sales offices nationwide and headquarters in 10 different countries--is its ambitious research and development group.

"We're always bringing new products to market and we're growing," Faulkner said. "We have a large R&D group and this is the sort of stuff they're doing every day."

Light weight

The company's passion for R&D played a large role when it won the contract to supply a new flashlight to Los Angeles police.

The LAPD began seeking a new, lighter non-metal flashlight in 2004 after officers were captured on video using their metal flashlights to beat a suspected car thief. The department invited more than 20 companies to apply for the contract. But despite some initial interest, most declined, saying the specifications set out by the department were unrealistic.

Pelican took up the challenge. And at just under 9 inches and weighing about 10 ounces, the 7060 LED Flashlight's physical characteristics are indistinguishable from many off-the-shelf models. But the understated polycarbonate body hides many innovations.

Rather than bulky disposable batteries found in cheaper flashlights, the 7060 sports a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that weighs only 2.2 ounces and can withstand extreme temperatures and be recharged.

And rather than using traditional filament bulbs, Pelican was able to boost the brightness in the small body by using LED technology. LED lights are commonly used in digital clock displays, but are not generally found in flashlights.

However, by enhancing the LED with a new mirror cone reflector, the researchers were able to generate 130 lumens of bluish-white light--more than the LAPD's minimum requirement and brighter than most large flashlights. One drawback for LED technology, though, is the price. Pelican plans to sell the light to general consumers starting this summer for $199.95.

Bill McGrath, chief technical officer for Vermont-based LED Dynamics, said though the flashlight is well-suited for police officers, he does not believe the light will sell well in the general market. "I'm not sure that general consumers have a need for a $200 flashlight," he said.

It may not matter. Pelican says it has fielded inquiries about the 7060 from 10 police departments across the country, including those of Chicago, Dallas and Miami.

"The response overall has been extremely positive," said Sgt. Lee Sands, an LAPD spokesman. "These new lights are very maneuverable, very portable and offer a lot more features than the old ones did. They're really state of the art."

Pelican Products Inc.

Founded: 1976

Core Business: High-tech cases and lighting equipment

Employees in 2007: 700

Employees in 2006: 600

Goal: To broaden global distribution of its cutting-edge, American-made lights and dive cases

Driving Force: Demand by the military, businesses and government for durable cases and lighting hardware


Staff Reporter

Source Citation:Clough, Richard. "Seeing the light: Pelican Products started out making diving equipment; the LAPD has adopted its high-tech flashlight.(Innovation)(Interview)." Los Angeles Business Journal 29.18 (April 30, 2007): 18(1). Popular Magazines. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 19 Aug. 2009

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1 comment:

Pelican Lights said...

The LAPD is not the only Police force that has started to use Pelican products. I am from CT and have come to notice that Bridgeport, West Haven, and others have also upgraded to Pelican equipment. There is a growing demand for them, and as a diver myself, I own about 3 different Pelican flashlights myself. They have lasted me for years already and I have probably given them the worst treatment possible. I definitely think they will come of use to the Police. It is dark and dangerous in the water, so they need the best they can get.